PIQUA — The Piqua City Commission approved a lawsuit settlement regarding a lawsuit from a former city employee by a majority vote of 4-1 during its meeting on Tuesday.
Commissioner Bill Vogt voted against the resolution regarding the settlement, as well as all other new items of business not on the commission’s consent agenda.
The resolution will authorize City Manager Gary Huff to approve a lawsuit settlement agreement with William Douglas Harter, Jr., who was formerly the director of the Public Works Department. The lawsuit filed in the Southern District of Ohio against the city of Piqua and Huff claimed the plaintiff, Harter, “was retaliated against because he advocated against racial and ADA discrimination.” The resolution stated the city and Huff “have denied and continue to deny any and all of Mr. Harter’s claims” in the lawsuit.
“The city’s negotiation team reviewed the settlement, along with the city’s insurance carrier,” City Attorney Frank Patrizio said. “The agreement before you does not admit any wrongdoing on behalf of the city of Piqua or Mr. Huff. The settlement team weighed the cost of continuing the ongoing negotiation and risks involved with going to a trial on the merits.” Patrizio advised the commission that the attorneys representing the city and the city’s insurance carrier recommending approving this settlement.
“The agreement provides for a complete release of all past, present, and future claims by Mr. Harter, whether with merit or without,” Patrizio said. He added later “that members of the city shall not make any disparaging remarks against Mr. Harter, and therefore I will not make any comments on the merits of Mr. Harter’s claims other than what has already been said.”
Harter’s complaint stated he filed a hostile work environment complaint on June 26, 2018, against Huff and two other employees in the city’s Engineering Department “regarding unethical acts, passive aggressive acts, racism, and humiliation.” He then claimed he was “discharged for allegedly making false accusations and statements against city employees in violation of the personnel policy manual” on July 30, 2018. Harter’s complaint went on to say he “was harassed for complaining about race discrimination regarding the overtime procedure for an African-American subordinate and the failure to promote a qualified African-American subordinate.”
Harter’s hostile work environment claim to Human Resources Director Catherine Bogan was included in the lawsuit, as well as Bogan’s findings in a letter responding to Harter’s claims. In that exchange, Harter claimed he had been told “not to do handicap ramps for in-house street projects” against federal ADA regulations. Bogan’s letter claimed Huff had “initially instructed that the ramps be done after the paving.”
Harter also claimed the city had instructed him to cut “overtime completely out for one employee, but not for others.” Harter said the employee “wanted to know if it was because of the color of his skin.” Harter also said he had to send an email to Huff and the city’s finance director noting every time he approved overtime for this employee. The lawsuit also claimed Harter did not have to notify the city administrators when he approved overtime pay “for white employees under his supervision.”
In Bogan’s letter responding to his hostile work environment claim, she wrote that the “employee in question had nearly doubled his regular earnings in overtime for the fiscal year 2016,” and Bogan went on to claim “there was an apparent lack of oversight” for the approval of that overtime.
Harter’s lawsuit also claimed when that employee was found “to be the most qualified candidate” for a working supervisor position, “the City of Piqua and Mr. Huff demanded that a test be created and given to all applicants in order for a preferred white candidate to become the most qualified for the position.” The lawsuit went on to claim that Huff “decided not to create the working supervisor position” when Harter informed the city and Huff that Harter had a “reasonable good faith belief that such action was unlawful and discriminatory.” The lawsuit also claimed “Mr. Huff pervasively intimidated, ridiculed, insulted, and harassed Mr. Harter.”
The settlement outlined in the resolution included the city paying $40,000 to Harter “for alleged non-economic damages” and then paying the law firm Fungan & Lefevre Co. $60,000, representing Harter’s alleged attorney’s fees incurred in the lawsuit.
Within five days of those payments, Harter is to dismiss the claims in the lawsuit against the city and Huff with prejudice.
Then, on Jan. 2, 2020, the city will pay Harter an additional $20,000 “for alleged non-economic damages,” according to the resolution.
On July 31, 2020, the city will reinstate Harter, without interruption or loss of time from his termination date of July 30, 2018, to a comparable position as that of his former position of employment with a stated salary if his employment had continued in the same position without interruption since the date of his termination on July 31, 2018.
On Aug. 1, 2020, Harter will voluntarily resign from his employment with the city and agree not to seek, apply for, or accept future employment with the city. Then, the city will pay Harter $19,540 “for alleged back wages.” The city will also agree to pay $53,991.23 to the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS), representing the amount of employer and employee contributions that would have been reported and paid to OPERS if Harter would have reported to OPERS between July 31, 2018 and July 31, 2020.
During public comment, a resident asked if the city had looked into the claims against Huff. Mayor Kazy Hinds said, “It was thoroughly investigated.”
The resolution was approved by a vote of 4-1.
In other news, for information regarding the ongoing issue of utilities, downtown redevelopment, and a resolution of appreciation for Bruce Jamison, former chief of police of the Piqua Police Department, see Thursday’s edition of the Miami Valley Today.
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